Fruits and vegetables are some of the most nutrient-rich foods on the planet. But besides being nutritious, they are delicious. How about some sweet strawberries tossed in with your morning cereal or crisp slices of bell pepper dipped in hummus? Yes, please!
Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 12% of people consume the recommended servings of fruit and 10% consume the recommended daily servings of vegetables. So, you know you need to get more of these plant-based goodies, but exactly how many servings of fruits and vegetables do you need every day to reach those guidelines? Getting the answer can help you reach your nutrition goals and gain the confidence of knowing that you're doing good for your body every day.
How Many Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Per Day?
How many servings of fruits and vegetables per day do you really need? The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommend that adults and children 14 and older get two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables every day.
Fruit and Vegetable Servings for Adults
A 2021 meta-analysis published in Circulation examined the habits of over 100,000 adults over a 30-year period. They paired that knowledge with insights gained from 26 studies and established the same healthy recommendation for adults: two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables every day for better health. There's no denying this continued research to help confirm that you need five servings of produce every day.
Fruit and Vegetable Servings for Children
For kids, the serving sizes are smaller and they depend on how much your child eats. For toddlers, if your child eats a small amount of food, such as two cups of food per day or less, stick with the smallest serving included in that age group.
Children aged 9-13:
- 1 1/2 servings of fruit
- Two servings of vegetables
Children aged 2-8:
- 1 1/2 servings of fruit
- 1 1/2 servings of vegetables
Children aged 1 to 23 months:
- 2/3 of a serving to one serving
- 1/2 serving to one serving
The good news is that you can choose from an array of fruits and vegetables to get your servings in. Choose fresh, frozen, dried, 100% juice, or canned fruits or veggies to fulfill your needs every day.
What Is a Serving of Fruits and Vegetables?
The guidelines that are developed by nutrition experts are based on specific serving sizes. A "serving" isn't just any random amount that you put on your plate. That's your portion size. The DGA sets specific amounts for what defines a serving and, according to those experts, there are different ways to get a serving of fruits and veggies.
One serving of fruits or vegetables is equal to:
- 1 cup of frozen, raw or cooked fruit or vegetables
- 1 medium-size piece of fruit or vegetable
- 2 cups of leafy greens
- 1 cup of 100% juice
- 1/2 cup dried fruit or vegetables
You can use measuring cups to see if your portion of fruits and vegetables equals a full serving, or you can estimate using your hands to determine the right amount. You can also use your plate. The USDA suggests that you fill half of your meal plate with fruits and vegetables. But don't worry if your measurements are not perfect. You'll gain the nutritional benefits even if the serving size isn't exact.
Why Get the Recommended Servings of Fruits and Veggies?
They Fight Off Disease
Getting enough servings of fruits and vegetables is linked to reduced risk for heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Certain phytonutrients in produce act as antioxidants in the body, fighting disease-causing free radicals you encounter every day.
They Help You Reach or Maintain a Healthy Weight
Fruits and veggies are generally lower in calories than other foods that you might eat in their place. For example, if you eat baby carrots instead of potato chips with your lunch, you might save yourself 100 calories or more. Fruits and veggies also provide fiber. Fiber helps you to feel full and satisfied after eating so you don't feel like you need to eat again right away. These benefits might help you reach a healthy weight or maintain your weight, depending on your goal.
They Promote Good Gut Health
People feel better when they eat enough produce every day. This could be because of improvements in digestion and helping your gut bacteria do good work in your intestinal tract. Phytonutrients and fiber in fruits and vegetables also help reduce inflammation and, ultimately, help you feel better.
They Provide Vitamins and Minerals
You're more likely to get your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of many vitamins and minerals if you get into the habit of filling your plate with fruits and vegetables. For example, citrus fruits boost your vitamin C intake, berries boost your intake of vitamins C and K, and green leafy vegetables help you get enough of minerals like calcium and iron.
How to Get Five Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Every Day
Keep fruits and vegetables where you can see them, and this can ensure you reach your goal of two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables. You can set aside your fruits and vegetables in the right amounts and make it your mission to eat what you put out every day.
Try doing this the night before. The few minutes you spend planning your servings of produce can ensure you get all your servings the next day. Here are some ways to store produce to help you reach your fruit and vegetable intake goals.
- For kids, you might assign a color of storage container to each child to help them stay on track with getting their fruits and vegetables.
- Invest in some clear bins or re-usable zipper baggies to help you divide your fruit and vegetables servings.
- Wash your fruits and vegetables before you store them the night before. This way, they are ready to eat the next day. For berries, be sure to dry them before storing to avoid spoilage and wash berries no more than one day in advance. You don't need to wash bags of pre-washed lettuce or other pre-washed vegetables.
If you have a busy schedule, keep non-perishable options around so you can stay on track. These produce prepping tips will help amp up your servings.
Getting your five-a-day might feel difficult, but remember to take it a day at a time and before long, you'll be fitting in all those yummy nutrient-packed foods without breaking a sweat.